Monday, July 06, 2009

Problems with Individuality and equivocal elements of Conservatism

I find myself drawn to Greg R Lawson’s thoughts of an interview by James Poulos, an editor at the Postmodern conservative blog. Though the interview hardly makes for bread and butter consumption, he cuts through the top end prose of academia and raises pertinent but all the same practical questions, in relation to the individual within a progressive society routed within and toward cultural and political forces of influence where seemingly, an infinite number of lifestyles flourish. While concise, the focus rests on the hackneyed, not merely contemporary term, ‘fiscal conservative’ and the more inclusive and generalized singular descriptor … 'conservatism'.

This interview with James Poulos, whi is a doctoral candidate in political theory at Georgetown University and founding editor of obne of my new favorite blogs, Postmodern Conservative, is the kind of reading all thoughtful conservatives should do. It confronts a very serious dilema that we face- how do we live as individuals in the current modern and "Liberal" with a big "L" (as opposed to a classical liberal of the Burke or even Adam Smith variety).

Several interesting quotes

"The big challenge today, I think, is convincing people—especially younger people—that a life in which political liberty has been readily surrendered in exchange for great cultural or “personal” freedom is not a good life, either individually or socially. The willingness to be carried along to that destination, particularly under the impression that it’s basically inevitable, ought to be something that everyone with anything at all nice to say about NR’s (National Review) editors should unite against...

Conservatives are at great pains to convince themselves and one another that their vision of the good or virtuous life is not a mere lifestyle choice. Conservatives don’t just want to experience happiness or individuality—they want assurances, reliable enough that their souls may rest in them, that their progeny will be able to live, indefinitely, more or less as they do. If there’s no reason to live that way outside idiosyncratic personal choice, they’ll fail to inculcate their way of life, and lifestyle-choosing liberals will turn their children and grandchildren into individuals who could be just anyone."
This piece got me thinking about many different things, not only those specific issues raised by the interview itself.

So what do we "conserve" as "conservatives?" There is much more to this than just being a "fiscal conservative." After all a "fiscal conservative" can be an amazingly selfish and greedy person who does not care about anything outside of their own self-fulfillment.

If being fiscally conservative, however, is married, so to speak, with an overall cultural renewal, then, that fiscal conservatism is no longer a means only to one's self satisfaction, but is a morally responsible position that can allow us to give more to our family, our friends, and our community.

So, we conserve money for a greater good than oneself. But what else? Isn't conservation about saving things that are vitally important to us, possibly even necessary for life itself? Isn't that what the "conservation" movement is all about when it comes to "saving the planet?"

So isn't being "conservative" about saving something that will sustain us, not only materially, but spiritually? Isn't it about maintaining a connection to our roots, our family, and our cultural heritage that has historically shaped, though not determined, what and who we are?

So conservatives must "conserve" more than their individuality, they must conserve those instituions that transcend, otherwise, do we not lose touch with any sense of eternity?

In this respect, I think the "virtuous life" is much more than a mere "lifestyle choice." It is a life that attempts to raise our horizons to something much higher than ourselves, and even higher than mere man. For youth that seek the stimulation of "personal" freedom, conservatives must offer a more comprehensive vision, a vision of greatness, transcendance, and the eternal. These are that which should be "conserved" because they are what give us true inspiration and bring us closer (if not into the direct presence of) Truth.

Faith, family, and community are where these senses of the transcendant reside and those, even more than the fiscal arena, is what we must conserve.

How we do this is another question
For mine, the source article makes one appreciate just how fluid and fragmented this idiom ‘conservative’ is, and not just within its own theoretical sphere, but as an element of time, place and real world circumstance.

From the interview:

The way we conceptualized conservatism at the height of the twentieth century reflected a very legitimate practical response to certain problems and temptations in the real world, and today those problems and temptations look different. They carry different weights and fit into a different bigger picture. Rationalism in politics, to take one example that should resonate across the right-leaning spectrum, looks a lot different before and after 1968. Democracy promotion looks different before and after 1991. Deficit spending looks different before and after 2006, and even more so after 2008.
For those seeking intellectual ‘eHarmony’ on the subject that is, a more robust conceptualization if you will, of 'conservatism', they will surely be disappointed.

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